Aside from Google maps failing us as we made our way there, it was a wonderful, wonderful night spent at Mikla. Fine dining on the rooftop level while overlooking the Bosphorus River that separates the European and Asian sides of Istanbul (Mikla is in  on the European side of the city) and without a pompous vibe? Yes, please. The chef hails from a combination of Turkish and Scandinavian backgrounds and serves to transform local ingredients into a contemporary twist. And, this concept works. He does the Istanbullus proud.

 *Amuse bouche: raw grouper, dill, olive oil, lime*

*Turkish olive oil, butter, sea salt, goat cheese with toasted hazelnuts, bread*

*Half cooked Dentex, fish consomme, herbs, dill, shaved cucumber*
The charred skin perfectly contrasts the soft fish meat. The broth has multiple flavors working together and surfacing with each sip.

*Dried tenderloin, smeared humus*
Dry aged tenderloin is served rare, making it the restaurant's own take on "steak tartare". The dry aging process makes the meat packed with flavor in its tender texture.

*Uskundurian prawns, bulgur, celery, deep fried kale leaves*

*Lamb shank, braised cherry tomato, peas*
The very smoky taste in the lamb adds a distinct character to this dish.

*Sutlac rice pudding, green apple sorbet, strawberry puree, graham crackers crumbs*
Here, the traditional Turkish rice pudding is transformed into a contemporary interpretation.

*Anatolian cheeses: Kars Gravyer (cow milk), Bergama Tulum (cow and sheep milk), Korgi Peynir (cow and sheep milk)*

Mikla Restaurant
Marmara Pera Hotel
Meşrutiyet Caddesi 15
34430, Beyoglu, İstanbul

Be sure to double check the location of Mikla as Google Maps incorrectly identified the location of the address. The correct location is not too far off (about 2-3 blocks) from what Google Maps incorrectly showed. The Marmara Pera Hotel is pretty well known so asking for directions from people is easy.

Mercan, and another fish market

Fish markets are a huge part of Istanbul that they are not difficult to miss it. Unlike the U.S., the Turks don't go to a grocery store to buy fish when freshly caught ones are so readily available at fish markets around town. One is easily spoilt for choices of seasonal fish. Along Istiklal Caddesi, known as the heart of modern Istanbul, a fish market or Balık Pazarı [bah-luhk pah-zah-ruh] exists alongside restaurants fundamental to the seafood scene. In fact, it very much makes up the life of the restaurants along the narrow pedestrianized Balık Pazarı.

Many, if not most, of the restaurants at this Balık Pazarı have fresh fish on display outside. Some of the restaurants, like Mercan, have their chefs cook right outside the entrance. A "street stall" is set up outside the restaurant adding to the lively atmosphere of being able to enjoy popular street foods inside a restaurant setting. Mercan is one of the more popular restaurants that makes very good kokoreç [koh-koh-rech]. These grilled lamb intestines are a favorite part of street food culture among Istanbullus. The cooking stall that is set up outside Mercan's indoor dining room specifically prepares deep fried mussels and kokoreç. With a large pot of oil used for deep frying the mussels and a flat top grill for the lamb intestines, the chefs are seen to work continuously while following the non-stop rhythm of customer orders being taken.

Every night out for dinner among the Turks involve drinking rakı [rah-kuh] and enjoying seafood. At almost every table is a bottle of rakı, a clear Turkish liquor made from grapes and tastes very much like licorice. The alcohol content is 45%, so yes, it can take you down if you forget to eat! The way to drink rakı is to fill about 1/3 of it into your glass, then fill the rest of your glass with water (when you order a bottle of rakı, it comes with a tall bottle of mineral water). When water is added to the liquor, the drink becomes cloudy.

Served on skewer sticks, the deep fried mussels have the perfect balance of being light and crisp outside and moist inside. For the brave who have eaten (pig) intestines in Chinese cuisine, the offal is commonly prepared and served in slices about an inch thick each. Here in Turkey, the lamb intestines are first threaded and grilled on a rotating skewer. As the orders come in, bits of the intestines are sliced off from the skewer and then further chopped up finely to be stir-fried quickly on a flat top grill. The kokoreç is seasoned with oregano, olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper.

A popular wintertime snack, and thus only found during the colder months, is the stuffed mussels with rice, herbs, and spices. Besides restaurants, they can be found at numerous street corners in the city sold by street vendors. Hamsi (anchovies) are in season during the cold season and they are perfect when lightly fried. They may be small but juicy and the flesh is moist inside. Munch on a couple of pieces and then take a sip of the rakı. Repeat. A wonderful time all around.


Mandabatmaz, where Turkish coffee is still made the traditional way

Inside these windows lie the best kahve [kah-vey] in Istanbul. Located on a narrow alleyway just off the bustling Istiklal Caddesi, Mandabatmaz seems like it's worlds away from the rest of Beyoğlu. At this classic and feel-good old school place is where Turkish coffee is still prepared the old fashioned way which often times is the way to get the best out of the coffee beans. The owner is not afraid of sticking to traditions when making kahve and for this, he has earned many fans. The place is tiny and people come to Mandabatmaz not to stay and hang out for loud conversations, but to complete their ritual of having a cup of excellent kahve before continuing with their day. For those who prefer to take their daily coffee ritual outside, there are low tables by the wall along the alleyway where Mandabatmaz is located.

As each kahve order gets taken by the young assistant, the gentle owner behind the counter continuously and quietly prepares each cup with care. The traditional Turkish pot, cezve, is used here on the mini stove top burner. With foam so thick and creamy, the kahve at Mandabatmaz is really something to write about. If you've had kahve, you'll know that it is generally thick coffee. Mandabatmaz takes "thick" and "rich" to another level with its incredible smoothness. Every sip feels like we're on a Turkish coffee pilgrimage.


Olivia Geçidi No:1/A

If walking north on Istiklal Cd, go past St Antoine Cathedral (it will be on the right) and continue walking a little more, then take your first left onto the alleyway.

When ordering kahve, the general practice is to tell the server the level of sweetness you'd like. I like mine with little sugar, az şekerli [ahz sheh-kehr-li] and T likes his with medium sugar, orta şekerli [or-tah sheh-kehr-li]. Learning these simple and very, very useful Turkish words helped us go a long way. English is barely spoken at Mandabatmaz. Gesturing helps and it's easy to gesture for "one" or "two" cups of coffee but learning to say in Turkish how sweet you take your coffee is even better.


Beyoğlu, where the heart is for modern Istanbul

Galata Tower

History. Culture. East and West. These are what make Istanbul a beloved city. After all, the city is literally where Europe and Asia meet. There is the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, separated only by the Bosphorus River. Within the European side, there is the Old City and New City separated by the Golden Horn straits. Sultanahmet (Old City) is where the historical monuments are but Beyoğlu (New City) is where the locals go to play, dine, and drink. Once you’re done with the attractions in the Old City, take time to explore the narrow cobblestone side streets in Beyoğlu [bey-yoh-lu]. The side streets offer a very much authentic experience while walking past the old historic European buildings with local shops, cafes, and restaurants. Sultanahmet is filled with busloads of tourists and though Beyoğlu is also visited by many tourists, the New City offers you the type of experience that Sultanahmet does not.

Istiklal Caddesi

Sultanahmet is touristy and Beyoğlu is where you will find the locals and absorb a more authentic experience of the city. Sultanahmet puts you right at where the historical attractions are but come sundown, Beyoğlu is the place to relax and unwind. When traveling, T and I go local as much as we can-- local interactions are what we cherish, and so it wasn't difficult for us to decide to stay at Beyoğlu. It is afterall, extremely easy to get between Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu. We just had to decide if we wanted to walk or take the tram.  

Galatasaray Lisesi, first European high school during the Ottoman period

Roasted chestnuts, a winter favorite
Known as the more European section of Istanbul during the Constantinople period, the area today continues to reflect its rich cultural past. Along the main commercial avenue of Beyoğlu called Istiklal Caddesi is where you will find a plethora of cafes, restaurants, shops, and consulates. One of the reminders of the past that remains is the 19th Century nostalgic tram that operates from one end of Istiklal Cd to the other, between Tünel Square and Taksim. Walking the entire stretch of Istiklal Cd is only 25 minutes.

Off Istiklal Cd are many, many narrow streets waiting to be discovered. Staying at Beyoğlu, we walked everyday along Yüksek Kaldırım. Along with getting a good exercise along this steep cobblestone street, we discovered beautiful and old historic European buildings with character and soul in each of them. We heard sounds of little children playing, veered off onto another side street, and found the Dutch School of Istanbul. We saw the Galata Tower looming before us everyday, decided to try a new narrow route one day, and found ourselves at the base of the tower once used as an observatory during the Ottoman Empire. We saw and smelt delicious street foods and had our fair share of fresh fruit juices everyday from vendors that popped up at almost every corner. In the evenings we went to the meyhanes (tavernas) along the other famous side streets, ate, drank, and had a good time. Oh, what lovely memories.

Yüksek Kaldırım

Generally when people are deciding where to stay in Istanbul, it's a toss-up between Sultanahmet or Taksim Square. The latter, in Beyoğlu, is at the northern end of Istiklal Cd. Depending on one's preference, staying at Sultanahmet means it's convenient for sightseeing during the day but not as convenient for nightlife in Beyoğlu. Staying at Taksim Square might put you in a good area for nightlife but since it's on the northern end of Istiklal Cd, you have to go all the way south to Sultanahmet. We stayed at the southern end of Istiklal Cd which was the best of both worlds and we were in the middle of it all. 


Karaköy Özsüt

We not only discovered our favorite breakfast dive in Istanbul at Karaköy Özsüt but a new friendship was made between us and Hasan who owns the place. And for that, Karaköy Özsüt will always have a special place in our hearts. The interior is unimpressive in this local dive and the fluorescent lights are dull. But, this is what it gives it soul and for their sake, we hope Karaköy Özsüt remains the perfect way it is.

We arrive in Istanbul the night before and the next morning maKe our way to this breakfast dive. Still trying to get acquainted with the streets and with a map hand, we look hard for Karaköy Özsüt. There is rain-- not hard but irritating enough to get wet with a travel foldable umbrella. Finally we find it-- it actually isn't difficult to locate it but getting used to the curved streets and remembering that not every city is build on a grid like Chicago is part of the fun.

In business since 1915, the dive is officially known as Karaköy Özsüt though the awning at the entrance says Hasan Fehmi Özsüt which reflects the current and third generation owner. Known as having one of the best kaymak [kai-mahk] in Istanbul, Karaköy Özsüt has its own herd of buffalos whose fresh milk is used to make kaymak (Turkish clotted cream) that makes up a huge part of a traditional Turkish breakfast. Hasan frequently drives his truck out to his ranch, 125km away from Istanbul, where he milks the buffalos and gathers the milk to produce kaymak. At one point in conversation, he whips out his cell phone and shows us a short video of his baby buffalo at the ranch.

The Turks eat a lot of bread.  A basket of sliced bread is on the table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At breakfast, what else could be better with bread than kaymak? As part of the classic Turkish breakfast, a heaping of kaymak and honey are served together on a plate. The combined clotted cream and honey are smeared onto the bread and eaten together. The kaymak at Karaköy Özsüt put us right into a clotted cream high with its smoothness and creaminess. There is something about the Turkish clotted cream that despite its indication of "cream", it does not leave you feeling heavy and sluggish or like one of those feelings where you feel you've really had enough of NY cheesecake. Nope, none of that. In fact, after a breakfast full of kaymak, I dream of eating it again and again.

Another must-have classic Turkish breakfast item is menemen. This Turkish form of scrambled eggs is made with tomato, cheese, and spices. Sucuk [soo-jook], a spicy Turkish sausage, is a common favorite added to menemen so be sure to request for that. The menemen is flavorful while exploding with different combinations of spices which we could not tell what exactly they were except to just savor each spoonful of it.

Hasan makes the best lentil soup, ever. And he knows it. T and I see a man at the next table drinking a bowl of soup which sparks our curiosity because it looks, oh, so good. T asks Hasan what is that man having and yes, we would like a bowl of lentil soup too, please. We are hooked since and that inspires us on a quest to try lentil soup at every restaurant we visit in Istanbul. The result: none of the others can top Hasan's lentil soup. Hasan let us in how he makes this magical soup. Lentil beans, potatoes, green peppers, and butter are boiled together. On the side, buffalo cream, black olives, and red pepper are boiled together to create the "red oil". The "red oil" is drizzled over the lentil soup. Hasan also offered us a side plate of black olives in olive oil and oregano on the house.

Sipping çay [chai] is to be enjoyed all day in Turkey. The Turks drink çay all the time. The simple luxuries of life with excellent breakfast is how one should begin their day. When accompanied with great conversations, that is even better. Hasan speaks perfect English (his two other employees, however, only speak Turkish) and as it turns out, he studied at the University of Arizona in the 1980s. Upon learning T and I are from Chicago, he asks if we follow the Bulls. We have great conversations with Hasan on our first and second visit to Karaköy Özsüt that include his memories of the U.S., his ranch, how Kurdish food is different from Turkish (in his words, the Kurdish people use mainly flour and water as the base of their food and make miracles out of it), etc. On our second visit to Karaköy Özsüt (the morning before we returned to Chicago), Hasan said to us, Too bad you are leaving so soon. I would have brought you to see my ranch.

T and I will be back. You bet.

Karaköy Özsüt
Yemişçi Hasan Sk. No: 9/11

As the name indicates, Karaköy Özsüt is located in the docks neighborhood of Karaköy which is part of the district of Beyoğlu. The restaurant is located at a small open space or "courtyard". Facing the restaurant, AKBANK is on the left. The Karaköy tram station is across the street towards the right. This is the same line that will take you to and back from Sultanahmet (Old City).